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Baker pushes big change in offshore wind pricing

The five turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The five turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Massachusetts legislature is considering a Baker administration proposal to significantly change the way the state invests in and regulates the growing offshore wind industry.

Gov. Baker's bill — which he proposed last fall — would put $750 million of federal relief money towards clean energy research and investment, and change the way electricity from offshore wind farms is priced.

The state currently has a price cap for offshore wind, meaning new projects have to produce electricity below a certain cost.

Baker wants to remove that cap entirely. At a legislative hearing Tuesday, Baker argued the price cap worked well in the industry's early years, but technological advancements and new competition from other states have made it obsolete.

"As we look to the next phase of our offshore wind strategy, this legislation would also ensure that Massachusetts remains on the leading edge of offshore wind policy in the U.S. ... while continuing to ensure that the pricing that's available saves ratepayers money," he said.

But not everybody is on board with Baker's proposal.

State Sen. Michael Barrett, the co-chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, argued the cap has kept the price per kilowatt-hour from Massachusetts projects lower than in neighboring states, like New York and Connecticut.

"My request to you is that you not walk away from the wisdom that has assured us getting a break today," he told Baker.

The conservative-leaning Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance is also opposing Baker's bill.

"The price cap is a safeguard for Massachusetts residents, and it needs to be protected at all costs," spokesperson Paul Diego Craney said in a statement. "While many affluent [ratepayers] in Massachusetts would be happy to pay higher energy prices, most of middle class Massachusetts cannot afford it."

Advocacy groups like the Environmental League of Massachusetts argue the focus on low costs have come at the expense of other investments, like commitments to job training and infrastructure development.

"The cheapest solution, or the cheapest project that doesn't include storage, for example, is not always the smartest project," said Susannah Hatch, ELM's clean energy coalition director. "So economic development is certainly part of this picture."

Baker's offshore wind bill is not the only offshore wind proposal circulating through the legislature.

A House bill supported by House Speaker Ron Mariano would also remove the state's offshore wind project price cap, and essentially pivot the state from focusing mostly on cost towards other aspects of the bids, like job creation and long-term economic development.

Energy and climate policy has been one of the issues under intense negotiation right up until the end of formal sessions in each of the last three legislative sessions, and Tuesday's hearing suggests that the current session could be fourth to conclude with an update to offshore wind policy in Massachusetts.

With reporting from WBUR's Walter Wuthmann and State House News Services' Colin A. Young

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